Friday, January 30, 2009

How do Caldecott and Newbery winning books get their shiny stickers?

I just got an interesting comment on this post:

Kim asks: "I was wondering if you could share how long it takes for copies of the winners get the medals on the covers? My daughter and I have been reading and picking our own Caldecott and Geisel favorites for the past couple of months. She understands what the medals on the covers mean now and I'd like to get some of this years winners but want to get them with the stickers on them. I can't seem to find an answer on how long this takes to happen. I assume book stores are sent stickers to put on their current stock?"

Brian responded with this comment: "It generally takes about a month."

I've always been curious about the stickers myself. I'm not sure that I have the definitive answer, but I've worked as a bookseller, a librarian, been a member of the organization that gives out the awards and had a talk with the publisher of an award winning book. I think I have a pretty good idea of what happens. To the best of my knowledge, here's the story behind the stickers.

Kim, before we get to your question, let's back up a little and talk about print runs and the incredible selling power of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. When a book is published, a publisher decides how many copies to print. These initial copies are all first editions. If a book sells out its print run, the publisher will do additional printings and editions, but not every books gets a second printing.

There's no way a publisher can expect or predict a Newbery or Caldecott. Regardless of the pre-awards buzz, you never know what the committees will actually decide. No matter what the winning books initial print run was (with Hugo Cabret for example, it was quite large) there will never be enough copies to meet the demand. Available copies are purchased immediately by bookstores, libraries, schools, and a huge influx of customers. Typically, within a few hours of the announcements, all available copies of the book are sold out.

By that point, it's impossible to get the book, no matter what. The publisher has no more copies and thousands (I'm not exaggerating) of orders are pouring in. The publisher immediately starts a new and much larger print run to meet the sudden demand. Those copies typically come out within 1-3 months of the award announcement, depending how long the printing takes.

For booksellers, especially ones at independent stores like the ones I worked at, it is crucial to have as many of the winning and honor books in stock at the time of the announcement. If you don't, you won't get that initial rush of sales and you won't be able to get the book back on the shelf for at least a month. See this post for more about that.

Now, let's get back to the stickers. I wish I could tell you that on the day of the award announcement, everyone stops what they're doing and puts the stickers on the books. But really, it's much more mundane and gradual than that.

Nobody gets sent a batch of stickers. (That would be lovely, though). You have to pay for the stickers and they're purchased through the American Library Association Store. Anyone can buy them, incidentally, not just bookstores and libraries.

Even the publisher has to pay for the stickers, plus the cost of paying someone to physically put the sticker on the book. No publisher minds this, though, because of the enormous increase in sales the stickers represent. The publisher puts the stickers on the second printing and every printing thereafter.

Sometimes, with paperback books or books that are perennially popular, the publisher will put a photograph of the sticker on the book. That way, for example, they don't have to keep buying Newbery honor stickers for every copy of Charlotte's Web that is ever published. Sometimes, in later printings, they don't even put the stickers on... it will just say "Newbery Medal Winner" above the title. I don't really understand that, though. My feeling is if you've got it, flaunt it.

Libraries typically have many of the medalists and honor books already on their shelves. Whatever they don't have, they'll order immediately (budget permitting), and they'll receive the second printing a month or two later. My library has rolls of all the various stickers in the area they process books. Eventually, they'll go through the books currently in the collection and add the stickers and will put them on the new books as they come in. School librarians do the same thing.

Bookstores are a different story. All of the copies purchased on the day of the announcements don't have stickers... if for no other reason than that there is simply no time. When I was a bookseller, I watched the winning books go out the door before I could blink. Booksellers typically wait for the second printing of the book which already has the stickers on it.

So the short answer is : it generally takes about a month. Usually a bit longer.

But your question raises an interesting point, which is that not everybody wants the edition with the sticker on it. Sometimes, I'm proud of the unstickered books, because I bought them before everyone else. And at other times, the book look naked to me without the sticker.

So, now you know. Travis at 100 Scope Notes wrote a great post last year predicting where the stickers would end up on the predicted winners. But, since the stickers go on gradually and (except for the ones put on by the publisher) haphazardly, the stickers can end up any place on the book.

Thanks for asking. It's a good question.


  1. I guess I kind of wondered about this process, but never really gave it much thought. Your post was fascinating and enlightening. (And now I can say now I know.) Thanks!

  2. Informative stuff. And here I was thinking there was some "designated award zone" the publisher bestowed on the winning books. The process is more informal than I thought. Great post!

  3. Wow, really informative - and impressive resume too! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I love learning about this kind of stuff.

  4. Thanks for this response! Wow. I had no idea I could buy the stickers myself - I assumed they'd be a tightly controlled substance.

    I actually typoed in my initial question and I had meant to say that I assumed that book stores were NOT sent stickers for stock they had on hand but apparently that wasn't as completely silly as I was afraid it sounded.

    I don't really need 24 Geisel gold stickers but maybe my local library/school library wouldn't mind having the extras.

    It's been such a fun project to do with my kindergartner that I'd like to have copies of the books with the medals on them to commemorate it. Now we can finish it off by putting our own stickers on (if I can still get my hands on some of the books!).

    Thanks for the insight! I thought you might be able to help. I had tried emailing a couple of book stores (both large and small/independent) and either didn't hear back or got a "I need a ISDN or author for 'Geisel Award' book" response and honestly just gave up.

  5. Thanks!

    Now I am wondering if anyone ever bought stickers and evily put them on books that didn't win...

  6. Good, comprehensive answer! I'm actually very disappointed when all I can find is the cover with the sticker on it - not because I want to give the illusion I discovered it "first", but simply because it really ruins the illustrator's work. I much prefer "winner of the [insert name of award here] award" written somewhere near the title.

  7. This is so interesting, Susan! I've only got the library perspective, and we only do the Newbery and Caldecott gold and silver stickers. As soon as we hear the announcements, we yoink all the winning books off the shelf (if they're there) and sticker them. The others we have to reserve and sticker when they come back. It's great fun trying to decide where on the cover to put the stickers so they don't cover up anything important!

  8. This is a very informative forum. I do feel that I now understand a lot more about the stickers, and how they appear on the winning books.
    But - may I ask a question that is relevant to me please?
    I am the new author of a children's book (10 stories - 116pp and fully illustrated)
    How do I even hope to become a winner. It is difficult enough to ensure readers even know my book exists?
    Irene J Harvey

  9. Irene,
    Winning a major award like the Caledcott Medal is really out of the author and illustrator's control. Publishers submit eligible books for the awards (there's information about how to do this on ALA's website). But, there's really no lobbying you can do... it honestly depends completely on the 15 people on the committee that year.
    I can tell you, though, that typically (not always of course, but usually), Caldecott winning books are 32 page picture books published by a major publisher.

  10. I'm with a lesser-known award, the Sydney Taylor Book Award (from the Association of Jewish Libraries) and we've found that publishers are sometimes reluctant to deal with any medals other than those from ALA because of the costs (buying stickers, employing sticker-sticker-onners). I suppose also there are some books whose covers would be invisible below all the stickers if they didn't limit themselves to the "biggest" medals. But it is frustrating to proudly pick a winner and then NOT have the world be aware of it, due to a lack of stickerage.

  11. Gaiman just blogged that he's now seeing his book in bookstores with the Newbery sticker on them:

  12. Why aren't you ever doing entries? You used to have fun entries and those great polls all the time. Your readers miss you!

  13. I've always wondered about this but never wanted to ask. Thanks for your thoughtful answer!

  14. Hi Susan,

    I think we took the Newbery Course with KT Horning together. As the outgoing chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, I can tell you it is a challenge to get those books stickered. While the Newbery and Caldecott stickers will generate sales, booksellers and publishers often do not want the expense of buying stickers for the lesser-known awards. We offer a JPEG on our website for publishers to use if they reprint the book. As a courtesy, I usually send the winning authors five or six stickers for their personal use. In some cases, I will go to a store or event and sticker the books myself. Sometimes I'm the STBA Sticker Fairy, other times I'm the STBA Sticker Police.

    Kathe Pinchuck, Chair
    Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee
    Association of Jewish Libraries